It’s a private matter

By Roger Grossman
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — As we get near the end of this year’s basketball season, the annual angst and outrage builds and builds.

People are angry and frustrated, and the cries for action wafting up to those in charge of Indiana high school sports are growing.

They are tired of seeing private schools winning and going deep into the state tournaments.

Here’s what they are talking about.

At this year’s football state finals, for example, half of the six state champions were private schools.

Now, if you actually go to the IHSAA website and look at the year-by-year state championships for each sport, the 2022-23 school year doesn’t fit that argument.

But, especially in the smallest classes, if you go back 20 years, you’ll find that the ratio of private school state champions to the number of sports the IHSAA offers and the number of private schools compared to public schools is disproportionate.

The numbers just don’t add up.

These people, in the name of fairness to the small public schools of the Hoosier State, want action and their patience is waning.

Ah, but the solution is always the obstacle.

Let’s assume the IHSAA want to do something about it. Their foundational responsibility is to be the caretakers of high school sports in Indiana, and to connect athletics to the classroom, the life-long lessons that athletics teaches and sportsmanship.

Fairness is their objective.

What those championing this effort have concluded is that private schools should be treated differently than public schools.

Most of them offer two options as potential solutions. The first is to make all private and charter schools play in the largest class in each sport. The other is that private schools should have their own class.

The thinking is that private schools have an advantage because they don’t operate within corporation boundaries. Their athletes can come from anywhere. Their families traditionally come from more affluent homes who can afford the best training, equipment and transportation.

And there was a time when my voice joined with these folks in calling for change, and change has come—but not the change everyone was hoping for.

It used to be that even if you packed up your family and physically moved from one school district to another, the school you were leaving could raise a red flag with the IHSAA and would start an investigation into the transfer.

What they would be looking for was evidence that the transfer was for “athletic purposes.” That violates the spirit of “education-based athletics.”

But those challenges are becoming fewer and fewer. Why? Well, that’s another article for another day.

I have no statistical data to back this up, but I am willing to bet that (counting girls and boys teams) over a third of the public school teams I saw this winter had a player who didn’t live in their school district. One school I saw play had three players in their starting lineup who I have confirmed do not live within that school’s district.

Oh, and don’t think I am chastising that school for it — not at all! They are simply “playing the game” like everyone else.

If you are a fan of a public school team and you are outraged by the success of private and charter schools and you sight the unfair disadvantage they have as your reason why, grab the roster from your girls and boys basketball teams over the last five years and I am quite certain you’ll find a player that either didn’t/doesn’t live in your district or didn’t start attending your school until their freshman year.

Heck, you’ll find kids playing at one school and their siblings played at a completely different school … and they don’t actually live in either one!

Please don’t misunderstand … I don’t like it any more than you do. It’s not the way it should be.

But it follows everything else in today’s society, doesn’t it? You don’t like the situation you’re in, you transfer.

The IHSAA rejects your transfer; you take it to court. You get mad because you got replaced in the starting lineup; you go somewhere else. You get mad at the boss; you start looking for a new job. Your wife burns dinner; the lady in the cubical across from you starts looking mighty attractive.

But again, that’s a column coming your way this summer.

Back to the original question: “What do we do about private and charter schools?”

The answer is: “encourage your school to do everything it can to be as attractive as possible to lure kids into your school system. And that’s not just an athletics thing. Schools should be doing that anyway because of the way our state government has set up the system to let money follow students rather than fix the schools we already have.

Again, that’s for another column in another section of the newspaper.

It may not be obvious to you, but the playing field for private and public schools has never been more level thab it is right now.